Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Like a pink storm

with 26 comments

Gulf Muhly Seed Heads 0584

While waiting at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center a little before 5 o’clock on October 15th for the opening reception of the Native Plant Society of Texas symposium, I pulled out my iPhone, knelt, and took this picture. When gulf muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris) matures and produces seeds, I see it as a local pink storm, such is the sense of movement that I get from it, even though the grass doesn’t move unless the wind is blowing. Do you feel that implied movement in this stillness?

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 20, 2015 at 5:06 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , , , , ,

26 Responses

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  1. I am soooo enjoying seeing my native Texas through your eyes. Thank you, Steven, from this native Texan now living in New Zealand.


    October 20, 2015 at 5:25 AM

    • I’m happy to offer you these views from your home state, Jenny. From your website I see that you even lived for over a decade right here in Austin, so some of the locations I mention will be familiar to you.

      This February I spent almost the whole month in New Zealand, which I portrayed in ways similar to the ones you’ll find in this blog (although with more scenic landscapes). You’re welcome to scroll through those photographs of your current home:


      Steve Schwartzman

      October 20, 2015 at 7:52 AM

  2. And yes, I see the movement. Seems to be shooting everywhere!


    October 20, 2015 at 5:26 AM

  3. What a lovely reminder of the first time I saw gulf muhly, at the Crystal Bridges Museum in Arkansas. This has become one of my favorite fall grasses, along with bushy bluestem.

    Your photo’s also a reminder of the last time I pitched a very small, very refined fit. Some gulf muhly was planted at the yacht club where I usually work. Last year, it was gorgeous beyond words. This year, the yard crew came in and “trimmed it up” just a month ago. Now, each stand of grass is perfectly matched to the others. They’re about 18″ tall and perfectly rectangular, with not a wisp out of place. There’s no movement in that grass, even if the wind is blowing.

    I was moved to stop by the administration office and ask what happened to the poor plants. Apparently there had been complaints about their untidiness. So, they took care of that. I’m glad I got to see some here, at least.


    October 20, 2015 at 6:47 AM

    • When I started preparing this post I joined you in thinking about the gulf muhly at Crystal Bridges, which we independently visited at around the same time two years ago.

      The attitude of the people you encountered at the yacht club is of the same type as those I experience in my neighborhood and just about everywhere else, the epitome of which is the mower “mentality” that wants everything not just trimmed but uniformly cut to the ground. Time again to say Oy vey.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 20, 2015 at 8:05 AM

  4. When I quickly glanced at the image before reading your description I thought you’d captured flowering grasses being blown about in the breeze so I have to agree with you there, Steve. There is implied movement! It also reminds me of hundreds of silk strands from spiders.


    October 20, 2015 at 7:54 AM

    • The illusion of movement is a good one, isn’t it? Now you’ve made me wonder about the addition of spiderwebs, which I assume must sometimes happen, given the ubiquity of spiders. How would the two look when combined? Might it be too much of a good thing? It reminds me of this passage from Shakespeare’s King John:

      Therefore, to be possess’d with double pomp,
      To guard a title that was rich before,
      To gild refined gold, to paint the lily,
      To throw a perfume on the violet,
      To smooth the ice, or add another hue
      Unto the rainbow, or with taper-light
      To seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish,
      Is wasteful and ridiculous excess.

      (Note: in the all-too-common misquoting, the two metaphors in the third line have been conflated into the single “gild the lily,” which makes little sense.)

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 20, 2015 at 8:14 AM

  5. Candy floss although I don’t think you guys call it that. Such a pretty grass, and yes, it does look as though it is moving.


    October 20, 2015 at 8:11 AM

    • You’re correct that we don’t call it cotton floss, but rather cotton candy (which adds rhythm and alliteration). No doubt about the fact that this grass is still a moving sight even when it’s still.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 20, 2015 at 8:18 AM

  6. Interesting and complex, love the span of colors that compose this image; I do believe I see motion.

    Charlie@Seattle Trekker

    October 20, 2015 at 3:18 PM

  7. Yes… I feel it! Great color to this awesome texture shot!


    October 20, 2015 at 4:25 PM

    • Definitely a textured grass, no doubt about it, and the pink adds magic to the mix. I’m happy that you, too, sensed the motion.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 20, 2015 at 4:59 PM

  8. Frenetic. The first word that came to my mind. The effect is very enhanced when viewed at the higher resolution. I have some of its cousin growing round the pond on our mountain property, but it doesn’t grow as densely as your specimen.


    October 20, 2015 at 10:29 PM

    • Frenetic is a good way to describe it, Lynda. (I thought you might well be the first person ever to use that word on this blog, but I searched and found that I’d used frenetic once myself in a reply to a comment in 2013. Did you know that frantic is a shorter form of the same word?)

      What cousin of gulf muhly do you have at your place?

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 21, 2015 at 6:14 AM

      • I honestly don’t know. I just recognize its form and color. Of the images available to me, though not all had images, I would guess this one – http://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=MUCA2
        It surprised to me to note, that not all Muhlys are feather-like in form, nor are they all pink!

        On frenetic: I my mind when I think of the two words, frenetic connotes motion, whereas frantic calls to mind emotion. It is a subtle spelling distinction, a simple ‘e’ in both words/thoughts, that changes them entirely. Was it intentional? Or am I seeing what I want to see in these? 😉

        Frenetic = motion
        Frantic = emotion


        October 21, 2015 at 11:07 AM

        • The link that you gave is actually the same species as the one shown here, Muhlenbergia capillaris. You’re right that other Muhlenbergia grasses aren’t pink—in fact, this is the only species I’ve seen here that is pink.

          As for frenetic and frantic, I sense the same motion ~ emotion distinction you do. It’s typical that when a language has two forms of what was historically the same word, there’s a difference in their meanings. Other examples are complement and complement; sure and secure. I could say that those differences are normal and nothing to get frantic about.

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 21, 2015 at 11:45 AM

          • LOL! I noticed that after I hit the post button. Perhaps they are the same and mine are simply immature plants.


            October 21, 2015 at 4:50 PM

  9. There is a swirling motion to this that is hard to miss. Nicely done with the phone, Steve. I am not able to hold very still when hand-holding any camera…even the weightless little iPhone…so I am glad to see such nice detail in this shot. And the color is quite lovely.

    Steve Gingold

    October 21, 2015 at 4:13 AM

    • Normally when I go to the Wildflower Center I take my good camera equipment along, but because I was there on Thursday for the opening reception of the symposium all I had with me, photography-wise, was the iPhone. I crouched to take better advantage of the backlighting—which contributed to the pretty color—and I used both hands to stabilize the camera. (On a field trip the next afternoon I noticed a woman kept taking pictures with her phone using only one hand, and I was tempted to explain to her why that’s not a good idea, but in the end I said nothing.)

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 21, 2015 at 6:23 AM

  10. Full of movement, absolutely. I do love it when a photo “still” has that quality, and this one is a beauty.

    Susan Scheid

    October 31, 2015 at 6:07 PM

  11. A veritable maelstrom—but of a much sunnier variety!


    November 2, 2015 at 2:37 PM

    • In light of the gender of the photographer, perhaps less of a maelstrom and more of a male storm. And you’re right that the sun, low in the sky in front of me, did its brightening act.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 2, 2015 at 3:21 PM

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